Rising to the Occasion

Etymology really bothers us.

We should first mention that etymology has nothing to do with insects and everything to do with the origins of words and their transformation through common use--although when we expressed our feelings toward this particular field of study, our editor admitted he, too, disliked bugs. (Editor's note: I was referring to Dave.)

Certain words baffle people. Other words mislead. It's like an old buddy once said, "Language and communication should be totally...what's the word?"

The subject came up during our research into this week's Burning Question. When we began our work (using the word in the loosest sense; in our case "work" usually means a few nights roaming Dallas-area bars followed by a few hours of community service), people told us, over and over, that Hooters employed the most provocative waitstaff. Our understanding of provocative, however, tends more toward the alluring, and there's little in the behavior and outfit of a Hooters waitress left to intrigue patrons.

"Hooters is a topless bar, covered," says Maureen McGregor, manager at The Men's Club, home of the unfettered breast.

Language scholars would tell us that "provoke" comes from the Latin provocare, meaning "to call out"--a very applicable phrase, when you think about it--and that in the current vernacular "provocative" defines any stimuli evoking a response. Again, it seems like a rather appropriate description of an evening at Hooters.

Yet we stand by our contention that provocative implies something more. The fact that men are like puppets on a string--that's a metaphor...or a simile, can't remember which--when confronted by exposed cleavage and orange shorts means nothing. Provocative suggests a flirtation that lingers, an unspoken level of communication leaving the patron with a sense of anticipation rather than furtive excitement. "I think provocative is more along the lines of service," agrees Theresa, a waitress at Cool River in Las Colinas. "Hooters is very revealing. You come in here, and you're not expecting it. You have good food, great service and that unexpected beauty."

The word "hooters" once identified those who emit derisive cries, as in hoots. Then it served to classify vaguely humorous stories. Now the word exists as a proletarian synonym for breasts. Oklahomans go to Hooters and titty bars. Sophisticates, on the other hand, visit gentlemen's clubs for an evening of adult entertainment and occasionally enjoy some light banter with the hoi polloi at a sports bar or wing establishment. In one realm, a woman is hot and guys announce the fact with a chorus of "whoooo." In the other, she's provocative--a more refined endearment.

"Provocative is a mysterious, sexy professionalism," notes Scott Sharrer, manager of the Candle Room, the new hot spot in Knox-Henderson. Breasts play no role in his definition of the term. Neither do bazongas or melons, for that matter. And he minimizes the importance of appearance.

"Obviously there's a look involved," Sharrer admits, "but it doesn't have to be an outward beauty. It's how they carry themselves, their demeanor."

Not to belabor the point, but we're still just a bit disappointed. We spoke to about 200 people in our effort to pin down an answer to this week's Burning Question. Men pointed us to Hooters or, alternatively, Bone Daddy's in overwhelming numbers--the places we call tawdry (in a PG sense) but not provocative.

"I think men define that differently than women do," McGregor points out. Yet here again we met with frustration: Women could not identify a single establishment fitting our description; they did, however, offer some intriguing guidelines for individual servers. "It's someone who is part friendly and part aloof," explains Kathy Fragnoli, hanging out at Sense. "They are friendly enough to draw you in, but still understand barriers." Male patrons, it seems, fall for flirtation and a few brushes on the arm. Women expect service.

"Somebody is interesting to you if they don't make themselves available to everyone," Fragnoli adds. Kinda difficult for a waitperson.

So, all that aside, which establishments have the most provocative waitstaff?

Believe it or not, The Men's Club and The Lodge employ some truly alluring staff. Managers and staff members even confirm that waitresses receive more amorous invitations than the dancers. "We flirt a bit," says Shelby, a waitress at The Men's Club. "Plus there's something to be said for being clothed."

That's a lesson we learned long ago, although circumstances were different, and we don't care to say more.

Where garments are not optional, a few places stand out. Waitresses at Cool River provide solid service and a bit of upper body exposure. They tend to be flirtatious, but in a more professional sense. There is less sexual innuendo and more playful sarcasm. Kismet, on Greenville Avenue, also staffs an impressive group. "It's a very sexy atmosphere," says cocktail waitress Michelle Pusateri. "It's got a good feel to it, and it makes everyone here more provocative." Again, the outfits are noticeable, but the easy movement and personal confidence of the servers truly stand out. Nikita's pseudo-Commie outfits have all the style Eastern Europe is known for, so it must be atmosphere and service that keep people attuned to the waiters and waitresses elbowing their way through the crowded space. Finally, there are the servers at Candle Room. They smile, they maintain eye contact, they flirt and they bring drinks quickly.

As Sharrer reiterates, "Too many people confuse provocative with beautiful. What you really want are people who are experienced to guide the guests."

Anybody can be an order taker. Few, however, are able to play a truly provocative role. Fewer still understand all the nuances of service, professionalism and subtle allurement implied by the word--hence our frustration with etymology.

Our editor, meanwhile, says he also hates big, hairy bats. Which establishments have the most provocative waitstaff?

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